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Not Prince Hamlet

"Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse."

The Waiter Chronicles: After Work

Thursday, September 06, 2007


I'm riding shotgun in westbound bass-thumping Mustang, heading to an unknown midnight destination. I only know it's a Mexican bar and that Junior is friendly with one of the bartenders. We're 15 miles out of town now, still speeding into the valley darkness, and as we enter and exit Ontario like a knife through butter I start to wonder: "are we going into LA?"

Not LA, ultimately, but Chino. A few years ago this would have freaked me out, going out for drinks with people I don't know all that well at one of their personal hangouts. But now I don't care. It hardly even bothers me that Junior and Pepe have thoroughly out-dressed me. They're both in collared shirts, black pants, and shiny shoes; Pepe is even sporting a sleevless pullover sweater. The best I could do for this midweek after-work outing is a brown T-shirt with Pac Man on the front. My companions don't seem to care, so I don't either.

We pull up to the bar, which is actually in a strip mall. There's a Ralph's Supermarket only 100 feet from the entrance. We stride through the doors past a bouncer reclining against a walkway rail. He nods at Junior and Pepe, and I put my head down and follow them in, wondering, "Should I have nodded at that guy?" Inside, the bar is a cross between a nightclub and a bingo parlor. There's a jukebox in the corner and a well in the middle, but the rest of the place is random smattering of tables and barstools separated by uncomfortable distances. The crowd is mixed, about half Latino and half white, with the white clientèle checking in somewhere between 40 and 50 years old. Somehow, this makes me relax, which I uneasily take as a measure of my age.

Pepe and Junior scan the bar for their friend, the bartender. She's not there. I'm just standing there like a dummy while the two of them deliberate about what to do. For a minute I think we might leave, but then we choose a hightop table near the door, and Junior sets out for our drinks. I tell him to get me a Coors, and he wrinkles his nose and lets out a "bah!" But I'm sticking to my guns. Not out of some loyalty to Coors, but rather wanting to keep my dignity. They're out of Coors, though, so I go with a Corona, which registers on Junior's face as a slight improvement.

Junior brings back our drinks and lifts his Pacifico bottle with a cocked head. I look from Junior to Pepe, then elevate my Corona. The irony does not escape me that this is the first and best welcome Southern California has offered me, and that it comes from two brothers, one 21 and the other 37, who are teaching me to be a waiter.

We clink our bottles to Junior's toast: "To . . . for the Hell of it."

For the Hell of it.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 3:19 PM

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